Some years ago someone posted a thread on a Christian message board I was on at the time “griping” about Christians who said they didn’t feel “fed” at their churches. I was astonished. I would think any pastor would be dismayed that anyone felt that way at his church. Then some months back someone speaking at my church (not our pastor) said that people leaving churches because they didn’t “feel fed” were probably just rebelliously on the outer fringes of the church anyway. Wherever I have seen the topic come up, there are negative vibes towards the hungry, unfed Christian rather than an examination of what’s being offered.
I suppose the first order of business, when someone makes a complaint about feeling unfed at a church, is to find out exactly what they mean. If it’s just a vague feeling of discontent or dissatisfaction, then that needs to be explored further. If it means they’re not feeling “entertained” or the messages aren’t “interesting,” then they need to be instructed as to the purpose of the message. If they’re falling asleep, talking, passing notes, staring out the window, then that behavior can be pointed out as the reason they’re not “getting anything” and advice can be given about getting enough sleep, perhaps taking notes to help keep one’s mind on the sermon. The complainer might even have some unconfessed sin in his life that is hindering his communication with the Lord. But in any of these and other scenarios, a gripy, irritated, fault-finding attitude toward the complainant is likely not going to help the situation.
When I have felt “unfed,” it hasn’t been for any of those reasons (though I’ve had my share of inattention or unplanned “naps” at church, I knew my unfed state then was my own fault.) When I don’t feel fed spiritually, it has been because the message didn’t contain much of the Word of God. I’ve felt unfed with messages that are primarily:
1. Ranting (about politics, the state of the world, the state of Christianity, etc. — not that those topics can’t be discussed biblically, but if it is just ranting, though it may get a lot of “Amens,” how is that helping anyone?)
2. Stories (Stories can be great illustrations of truth [Jesus even used them] or starting points, but if a message is primarily stories, to me, it’s not very meaty. I heard one pastor describe his own message as a “skyscraper sermon — story after story after story.”)
3. The speaker’s opinions rather than Biblical instruction (though, again, an opinion of a godly person based on Biblical principles can be of great value.)
4. Misuse or misapplication of the Bible. This can be done in myriad ways, but the one I’ve seen most often is having a point to make and attaching a Scripture to it rather than preaching from the passage and making applicable points.
5. The speaker’s thoughts about what the Bible says rather than what the Bible says. This is a little trickier — some commentary is inevitable and even good. One former pastor used to say that when he first started preaching, he would approach a passage with the question, “What can I say about this passage?” After a time, he realized that was the wrong question. The right question is, “What does this passage say?” When you really dig into the passage itself, the context, the meanings of the words, etc., and bring it out and make applications that are suggested by the passage that really fit the meaning and context rather than using a verse to address a pet peeve — that just makes all the difference in the world.
We do have to take into account that every pastor is only human, that not every message will be a “home run,” that there will be times the pastor needs to have just a “family chat” with a congregation, etc. But if I felt “unfed” the majority of the time at a church, I’d have to seriously consider leaving.
Here are some of the charges I have heard against the “unfed.”
1. You’re supposed to feed yourself.
True. Christians should be taught to get into the Word on a regular basis on their own. But does that mean they shouldn’t get “milk and meat” from their pulpits? I eat regularly at home, but when I go out to eat I want a satisfying meal there as well.
2. We come to church to worship God, not to be fed.
Comments along this line will often go on to gripe about “consumer mentality,” wanting to “get instead of give,” etc. Though we should be concerned with giving and not just getting, and though we should worship God, again, does that mean it is okay if the sermon is primarily fluff? Paul charged Pastor Timothy to “Preach the Word.” Jesus told Peter to feed His lambs and sheep, and Peter in turn instructed, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (I Peter 5:2). “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Timothy 2:24-25).
3. People who say things like that just like to complain.
Is a person who feels this way not supposed to say something about it? Granted, if he or she is just spreading this among others in the congregation, that is stirring up trouble rather than legitimately dealing with the situation. If the only person saying this is one who complains about every other little thing, it might carry a little less weight. But any criticism carries with it the responsibility to examine it and see if it is true before dismissing it. But it could be that a person making this statement privately to a pastor might be trying to rectify the situation. Would a pastor really rather have an unfed person quietly leave without saying anything?
4. People who say they aren’t being fed probably aren’t serving.
I don’t know why this connection is made. If the Bible is spiritual food and serving is spiritual exercise, doesn’t stand to reason that if one is better fed he can better exercise?
It is possible to be feeding oneself in the Word, actively serving, and worshiping as best one knows how, and still feel unfed. I know: I have experienced it. In one church my husband and I attended, we joined knowing that every “i” wasn’t dotted or “t” crossed exactly like we would have done, yet we agreed with the core doctrines and felt we could minister and be ministered to there. We enjoyed the pastor and preaching. Yet after a while things seemed to change,though we couldn’t quite put our finger on it or articulate it. Going through a stack of old papers one day, I came across some sermon notes from our first months there. I was astonished at how “meaty,” how Word-filled those early sermon notes were, and I was so sad that there had been a subtle shift away from such preaching. We didn’t go to the pastor and tell him we didn’t “feel fed” — we didn’t know exactly how to, didn’t know if we should, and just felt awkward doing so and didn’t know how it would be received. It was getting to the point that we felt we should consider leaving, but we really didn’t want to hurt the pastor or the people or create an awkward situation by doing so. As it turned out we had to move away due to my husband’s job. But sadder to me than the shift in preaching in itself was the fact that, as far as I know, the pastor felt he was preaching the Word and was evidently unaware of the shift himself.
It’s not my place to instruct or correct pastors. I just wanted to convey that there are legitimate reasons a church member may feel unfed. I know there are some folks in the church who never seem to be satisfied with anything. But there are serious Christians who just want to hear the Word of God.